Study Says Most Artists Who Make A Living Are White

Racial diversity among working artists doesn't exist.

Sophia Al Maria's piece at Frieze Projects 2014
Photo: Lorena Muñoz-Alonso
Dollar Sign (Yellow) (1981) by Andy Warhol.

Andy Warhol, Dollar Sign (Yellow) (1981).

Racial diversity among American artists who make a living from their work is practically non-existent, according to a post by Roberto A. Ferdman on Wonkblog in The Washington Post. The claim is based on analysis of  2012 Census Bureau data that was executed by a collective of artists, known as BFAMFAPhD, who focus on the increasing costs associated with making art. The study involved more than 1.4 million people whose main earnings come from working as an artist.

Among its findings, the lack of diversity among U.S. artists is even more extreme for those with art school degrees. Over 80 percent of those with undergraduate art school degrees are white, and of art school grads who make a living in the art world, more than 83 percent are white.

Ferdman also explores the connection between income disparity and the fact that art schools are “really expensive institutions—11 out of the 15 most expensive universities in the country are art schools,” he writes, citing the Wall Street Journal as the source. He points out that in 2000, white households had a net worth 10.6 times greater than black households. By 2011, that gap had grown to 17.5 times and is similar between whites and Hispanics.

And in case artists need any further depressing statistics, there are plenty to be had here, including that “art schools. . .are also anything but a bridge to gainful employment in the art world; only one out of every 10 art school graduates goes on to earn his or her living as an artist.” So dropping over $100,000 on an art education is anything but a guarantee. In fact, it’s more of “an extended luxury than an investment,” says Ferdman.

BFAMFAPhD’s study of almost 1.5 million people included writers, visual artists, actors, photographers, musicians, singers, producers, directors and performers. The collective found that those with an art school degree drew a median salary of $36,100, while those without a degree, earned $30,600. To which we say: Ouch!

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